Monday, February 24, 2014

10 Words That Americans Should Say More Often

The other day, a friend introduced me to a young American woman who was stumped from the moment I opened my mouth.

"Are you really from New York? You don't sound American."

"Well, I was actually born in the Virgin Islands, but I only lived there for four years. I grew up in Florida and spent most of my adult life in New York. Where do I sound like I'm from."

"Hmm... I'm not sure. You sound different. But I can't place your accent. I've never heard it before. It sounds like a mix of a lot of different things, like someone who has lived everywhere."

It seems my nomadic lifestyle is rubbing off on my speech. I'll never purposely adopt a faux British accent, Madonna style, but I am noticing elements of British, Australian and South African English creeping into my side of everyday conversations. I roll my eyes at how Aussies shorten everything ("brekkie" has just as many syllables as "breakfast," and it doesn't sound particularly edible), but "tomoz" and "arvo" are so much easier to text than "tomorrow" and "afternoon," respectively. I'm still not referring to happy hour with a view as "sundowners," the way people in South Africa do, but it's probably only a matter of time.

Like many Americans, I've always been susceptible to the charms of an accent. (If I could choose one to hear first thing in the morning for the rest of my life, it would probably sounds like Harry Connick Jr.'s New Orleans drawl.) A few days ago, a man practically knocked me off the sidewalk, and I was seething until he turned around and said, "Sorry, excuse me," with the most melodic, beautiful lilt ever.

I couldn't place the African country of his origin, but I was immediately smitten. His accent made me guilty for overreacting to nearly being knocked on my ass.

"No, I'm sorry."

Despite my fondness for accents, I've never considered the Queen's English to be superior to its supposedly lowly American cousin. Though I will admit to preferring "colour" over "color," "glamour" over "glamor," and "rumours" over "rumors," I refuse to ever say "zed" instead of "Z," and I most definitely won't be subbing "Z" for "S" unless I'm being paid to do so.

I'm still on the fence regarding "holiday" vs. "vacation," "going to university" vs. "going to college" (though I absolutely loathe "uni"), and "being in hospital" vs "being in the hospital." Meanwhile, a "lift" sounds like something rickety and old-fashioned that could possibly send you falling to a certain death. An "elevator" is not only safer; it's modern and more elegant, too.

A "jumper" sounds like something a toddler would wear (though I wasn't complaining about it the time David Bowie complimented mine), and if a tank top is a vest, then what is a vest? Note to self: Remember to ask the South African friend who kept asking me if I liked his "vest" on Friday night (and I did, mostly because it reminded me of a roll of Lifesavers) the next time I see him.

Speaking of friends, "bloke" is so ugly and harsh, "mate" sounds like someone you hang out with in pubs only, and unlike "friend," both have a boys-club ring. And speaking of boys only, don't get me started on calling a cigarette "a fag." I suppose better a cancer stick than a human being, but why not just do away with the word completely?

While I'm perfectly happy speaking and listening to American English, there's always room for improvement, which could begin by sprucing it up with a 10 simple words that the British (as well as Australians and South Africans) like to say.

Lovely Do Americans even use this word? One of the best compliments I've ever received was from Emma Bunton when I was at a Teen People photo shoot with her and Victoria Beckham in 2000. "You have such a lovely face," she said to me, turning to her make-up artist. "Doesn't he have a lovely face?" She's still my favourite ex-Spice Girl.

After meeting someone in the U.S., we tend to say, "Nice to meet you," which sounds so perfunctory, so lazy and possibly insincere. Yesterday when a new acquaintance sent me an email that said, "It was lovely to meet you last night," I thought, How lovely. He didn't have to say that, which made it an even lovelier thing to say.

Ghastly So dramatic, so poetic. I've got to remember to use it the next time I'm thoroughly appalled.

Greetings There's currently a running gag on Days of Our Lives featuring a side character named Percy Ruggles who greets everyone he sees with one simple word: Greetings. The character is creepy, annoying, and he's clearly up to no good, but at least he sounds like a gentlemen. And when you think about it, "Greetings," takes more of an effort than "Hi," which has always had a slightly abrasive ring to me.

Black Having now lived in Australia and South Africa and spent considerable time in the UK, I don't believe anyone in either country has ever referred to me as an "African-American," which I suppose would be an even more egregiously presumptuous term than it is in the U.S. "Black" is still beautiful abroad, thank God.

Spirits They lead to a nice, civilised buzz, as opposed to hard liquor or the booze that makes one a mumbling falling down drunk.

Savoury It almost sounds like something kind of healthy, as opposed to the salty junk food that raises your blood pressure.

Trousers They sound so much more fashionable, sophisticated and nicely pressed than "pants," which positively reeks of cheapness and poor quality.

Kindly "Please" will never go out of style, but a well-place "kindly" -- as in "Kindly get the hell out of my way" -- has a distinctly more authoritative ring. No one would ever associate it with begging.

Celsius After nearly eight years of living in a Metric world, I've reached the point where I think in Metric measurements, too, especially when it comes to temperature. I used to uphold the superiority of Fahrenheit for its precision, but I've come around. As comedian Steve Harvey recently told Ellen Degeneres, what does 1 degree Fahrenheit even mean? The difference must be so negligible, why not just call it 0 degrees? Of course, the Imperial System still has its place: Since I haven't had a fever since I left the U.S., I have no idea how Metric countries measure body temperature, and I wouldn't dream of messing with the Fahrenheit-referencing lyrics of Heat Miser's and Cold Miser's theme songs in The Year Without a Santa Claus.

Cinema Because people go to the movies to be entertained, and people go to the cinema to be entertained and moved.
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